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Dazzling Liguria, the most glamorous coastline in Europe

By George Webster for CNN
  • Known locally as Liguria, the region is a haven for film stars, writers, and jet setting yachtspeople
  • Most popular destinations include Portofino, Sanremo and Cinque Terre
  • Mainsail provides an at-a-glance guide to these elegant port towns

(CNN) -- The shore of the Italian Riviera is widely considered to be the most glamorous and picturesque in Europe.

The sheltered beaches, soaring cliffs and chic fishing villages of this dazzling stretch of coast that begins at the French border, known as Liguria in Italy is a top draw for sailing enthusiasts the world over.

Among its most popular destinations are the elegant ports of Sanremo, Portofino, and Cinque Terre.

Here is Mainsail's at-a-glance guide to this charming and unspoilt region.


This chic seaside village jostles with Cannes for the title of Europe's most glamorous resort. Chiseled into the steep rock face, Portofino is almost totally secluded from the mainland and is only easily accessible by boat -- making it a sailor's haven.

Famous for: Sanctuary-seeking scribes. Guy de Maupassant, father of the modern short story, is said to have written after a trip to Portofino in 1889: "Never have I experienced a sensation to rival what I felt as I entered that cove."

Since then Truman Capote, author of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and English novelist Virginia Woolf have all sought inspiration in the village's quiet enclaves.

People watching: Fashion designers Giorgio Armani and Dolce&Gabbana have holiday villas in Portofino. George Clooney, Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington are familiar faces in the summer months, while Madonna has been photographed going for jogs in the jasmine gardens of celebrity hangout "Hotel Splendido."

Be Seen: In designer shops. The pebbled streets are laden with upmarket boutiques courtesy of the world's most luxurious designers. Christian Dior, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Loro Piano all have stores nestled between glitzy cafes for an idyllic designer day out.

Getting away from it: Offshore dives. Portofino promontory is a designated national marine reserve and contains an astonishing array of life forms. As well as accommodating some of the Med's most colorful fish, the protected area entices dolphins and whales in the summer, making it a favourite for diving enthusiasts.


Situated near the border with France, Sanremo is just a stone's throw away from the billionaire's playground, Monaco. This makes it the first port of call on the Italian Riviera for many of those traveling across from neighboring Cote D'Azure.

Famous for: Flowers. Sanremo's favorable climate has led it to be dubbed the "City of Flowers". Enormous glasshouses surround the city, exporting millions of roses and other blooms across Europe and beyond.

People watching: The Sanremo Music Festival is Italy's most famous music festival. This year was its 60th edition and featured Latino diva Jennifer Lopez and British pop superstar Robbie Williams.

Be seen: At the Casino di Sanremo. Built in 1905, kings, politicians, artists and film stars have graced the glittering halls of this historic art-deco gambling house over the decades.

Getting away from it: Inside Nobel's villa. Alfred Nobel, founder of the prestigious international prize that bears his name, bought a villa here in 1891 and died in it five years later. Since 2002, it has housed a permanent exhibit of the most important discoveries throughout the 19th century including the research interests of Nobel himself.

Cinque Terre

With its steep cliffs, wild countryside softened by sporadic villages of candy-colored houses, this is perhaps the most unspoilt and raggedly idyllic stretch of the Riviera. Part of Cinque Terre National Park, the area's status as a UNESCO World Heritage site has spared it from a proliferation of T-shirt shops and gaudy souvenir stands.

Famous for: The Path of Love. Cinque Terre is composed of five distinct villages connected by a long and winding walkway. Between the village of Riomaggiore and Manarola, a stretch known as the Path of Love is colorfully graffitied with declarations of romance, while thousands of locks and chains swing from the overhanging rocks as symbols of enduring fidelity.

People watching: Cinque Terre is a maze of crooked streets, discreet alcoves and quiet hiking routes. As such it's not a particularly attractive prospect for camera-hungry celebrities. However, those with vivid imaginations might fancy they spot the ghosts of 19th century British poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelly, both of whom were regular visitors.

Be Seen: At Monterosso al Mare. The biggest and most modern of the five villages, Monterosso adds a touch of cosmopolitan ritz to the area. Eat baby octopus at the trendy "CIAK" restaurant; enjoy a "gelato" and a seaside view from the "Nuovo Bar Eden" located in the new town; dance the night away at one of the many beach parties happening over the summer months.

Getting away from it: In Corniglia. Most peaceful of all the villages, Corniglia is the only one of the Cinque Terre to be sat high up above sea level. The narrow alleys buzz with children playing and couples stocking up on supplies at the tiny alimentary or general stores.